August 20, 2002
My name is Michael Plassmann, I come from Berlin and I am 39 years old. It is August 20th 2002.
I remember the 11th of September very precisely, I had a meeting and was driving back in my car. On the radio I heard that a catastrophe happened in New York, an airplane had collided with one of the towers. It wasn’t very clear information. It must have been around 3.30 or 4pm, I drove to my office and had, luckily, if you want to say so, a TV there. All the channels, private and public, were informing about the situation there. I felt, like many other people, that it was a movie, a bad movie, a joke. By the time I turned on the TV the second plane had already rammed the second tower. I was alone in the office that day, nobody else was there and was relatively alone with these images. I felt the need to call my girlfriend, which, I think is normal, to talk to someone who is close to you. Furthermore she works as a stewardess and is more familiar with this or that in certain situations in a flight even if, of course, what happens in a situation like that can’t be understood really, but I couldn’t reach her, which wasn’t good because of this need to talk to someone close. I reached some family, we all watched the images parallel to one another and couldn’t believe it, and what could motivate people to do such a thing. By all political differences that people may have, it was not understandable. Everybody in Germany, I think, was shocked and it showed by the fact that all TV stations suspended their programs, even the private channels, day and night, with no interruptions for advertising, they reported on this catastrophe. Every word was a piece of consternation but to describe it you would probably have had to be here. There was an enormous feeling of solidarity in Germany, especially in Berlin, where freedom was owed to the USA, even if in collaboration with the Soviet Union. In a city reunited since 12, 13 years, one knows what significance the USA has for Germany as well as such an act of aggression, of perfidy against America. It churned up people, especially in Berlin. The very next day there was a spontaneous march demonstrating solidarity, by the Brandenburger Tor, I can’t remember exactly, there were about 100’000 people there. It made me happy, if one can speak of happiness in that moment, that this feeling of solidarity was shared across all parties and political views. There were people there, I remember Ströbele of the Green Party who certainly isn’t a classical friend of the US, who was there, very quietly, it was a community act, during a couple of days and nights, it was all about the atmosphere in the US. Even the public channel that I don’t like so much, ARD, with the Tagesthemen, the moderator Ulrich Wickert who was actually quite overwhelmed by the events, but I didn’t stay with that channel because the news reports from the US were very competent, still, they all did a good job. In Germany too there were many discussions about how to prevent such things, more constraints through law, how can internal security be represented, terms like law and order prevailed. I think if you don’t live in that country but are in a distance to it, the consternation is slightly graded in comparison to the people here, they speak more intellectually or even aloof about it. Quickly the question came up how far the individual rights can be curtailed considering that terrorists planned the attack in Germany. These discussions were earlier than in the US if I check with the NYTimes, due to the distance that is given in Germany to the events. The role of Germany was certainly one of solidarity and in Parliament discussions of the classical parties didn’t dispute the solidarity with the US but how far they should go supporting the US in attacking back. Many of those that had preferred dialogue in the past understood that dialogue didn’t lead to much, and violence had to employed to defend against violence. A difficult discussion. But the attacks of 9/11 made many think again. I came to New York in the summer and one motive was certainly to see how people lived with the experience of this blow of fate. I visited Ground Zero several times, both by day and night, to get something of an impression, an inkling of it. If one comes from the north, the less touristy side of it, I have to say, I couldn’t suppress some tears now, a year later. Images come up, and the forms of solidarity one can read are of very personal nature and stirred a lot in me. I was glad that at ground zero there still was a respectful quiet. I think that is good, and the gift shops are kept in limits despite the number of tourists, the respect for fate of the victims still dominates, also in the discussions about a memorial. If I can express the wish, as a foreigner, I would want the memory of the victims to be the central focus of a memorial, independent of how a building, a construction would be designed. I think of all these people who just helped in those hours not thinking but just doing deserve all respect, they helped selflessly, and those who could not take any influence in the course, and those running into their fate and losing their lives. I am glad to have been here and have supported the solidarity with the people here, with those who helped, and the country that gave Germany so much liberty. I hope that terrorism will be fought farsightedly, with as little violence as possible, that reasonable ways can be found to track the people who plan such attacks, and to understand the reasons for them and never forget the victims.
Translation by Peter von Salis